Does Your Reputation Need Rehab?

Even if your product and company are solid, if the consumer’s perception of you is negative or damaged, sales of your product and company can suffer.

Mention the name “Bill Cosby” and half the area will fondly remember the entertaining Dr. Huxtable on “The Cosby Show,” as well as those tasty Jell-O Pudding Pops commercials. The spouse will condemn Cosby as an accused rapist. Which may be the real Bill Cosby? We might never know. What counts may be the perception others have of him, predicated on what they have heard, read, seen or personally experienced.

Reputation is formed in the minds of the people we influence; they form judgments and perceptions folks predicated on their own knowledge of who we are, what we’ve done, or what we are a symbol of. Is this right? That’s debatable. But reputation is real in the minds of the individuals who perceive it. For example, easily perceive you to be arrogant, out-of-touch together with your customers and elusive, I might not want to purchase your products, endorse your company brand or recommend your company to my friends. Even if your product and company are solid, if the consumer’s perception of you is negative or damaged, sales of your product and company can suffer.

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Remember when United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz faced social media backlash for his perceived callous and insensitive response to a passenger forcibly taken off a flight due to overbooking? The act itself was damaging, nonetheless it was the CEO’s behavior that’s thought to have fueled the deluge of anger, helping United’s stock drop $1.4 billion. “It didn’t help that apologies from United and its own CEO Oscar Munoz were deemed tone deaf and insensitive by many on social media,” Fortune reported.

In 2007, when it had been revealed that Whole Foods CEO John Mackey used a pseudonym to contribute a lot more than 1,100 entries on Yahoo Finance’s bulletin board campaigning for his company’s stock and occasionally blasting a rival, fans of the complete Foods brand began questioning the company’s value if the CEO modeled such disingenuous behavior.

When Uber CEO Travis Kalanick’s argument with an Uber driver over fare prices was filmed and shared over the web, Kalanick felt the wrath of reputation damage: His online popularity and customers’ endorsement of his product (Uber) suffered from his negative behavior. The hashtag #boycottuber started spreading across social media channels. Consumers equated his negative and hurtful behavior along with his company and protested.

When trust is fractured, followers will most likely distance themselves as quickly as advertisers dropped Bill O’Reilly on Fox. They would like to move from the brand and negative reputation so they aren’t linked to the individual or company and what has happened that they perceive to be hurtful.

Social media and social media appear to fuel this distancing behavior. When our friends, colleagues, clients and influencers perceive a brand to be damaged or toxic, we rally behind the people we believe we are able to trust, and therefore may also want to distance ourselves from what they reveal is bad.

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There are daily examples (e.g. Billy Bush, PADRAIG HARRINGTON, Kathy Griffin) in Hollywood and the business enterprise community where individuals make careless or thoughtless mistakes and discover themselves with a damaged reputation. Additionally, there are examples of individuals who’ve successfully repaired and rehabilitated their brands.

Remember Martha Stewart? Stewart served five months in prison, five months under house arrest and 2 yrs of probation carrying out a conviction for insider trading, and then emerge to reclaim her publishing and product empire. She maintained her innocence rather than apologized for doing wrong. Why, then, did her audience not fully abandon her? For me, Stewart had built a relatable brand that had enough positive context to override negative behavior. Consumers felt they knew her; she shared insights to help with making them better wives, mothers and hostesses. In a way, her audiences valued her recipes and decorating tips a lot more than they cared how she operated her business. Her decorating and cooking show suffered in ratings, and her name was downplayed somewhat on magazine covers, but her appeal and credibility helped her entice a $353-million sale of her company in 2015. Audiences — primarily women — wished to see her prevail.

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To help make the offense disappear completely quickly, many people react by:

  • Issuing an insincere or “forced” apology
  • Overcompensating in the negative or positive way
  • Donating money to a business thta includes a stellar reputation (assuming this will cleanse their own brand)
  • Creating a diversion
  • Hiding from view (hoping everything passes over)

Actually, there is absolutely no one-size-fits-all response to a reputation crisis. Reputation management professionals will counsel clients to consider the impact of the offense, timing of the response, goals/needs of the prospective audience, personal values and other external factors. Hopefully, they’ll also discuss if the offense indicates a more substantial issue or condition that will require attention (e.g. rehab or counseling) aswell.

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When addressing a reputation crisis, responding quickly isn’t always the perfect response. Regarding Kalanick, he quickly tried to describe the problem, issued a blog expressing his regret over the incident and focused on improving his skills as a leader. Soon, he began showing a far more contrite and relatable version of himself, attractive to followers who would recognize that “everyone makes mistakes,” including him. Online audiences were skeptical, since his apology still were crafted and insincere. As time passes, audiences will decide which may be the true Kalanick — the main one who yelled at an Uber driver, or the individual who made a blunder.

In Munoz’s case, his quick response appeared to negatively reinforce his position that the incident was the passenger’s fault, and his condoning of the policy that permitted overbooking landed him before Congress to describe. In his case, responding quickly, just how he did, proved detrimental.

In a few situations, I’ll advise my clients to look at a wait-and-see approach. For example, if they’re being criticized in the media when planning on taking a stance on an individual issue they feel passionate about, I would advise they wait to see if their online tribes and followers rally with their defense. Having others attest to your integrity, rather than reacting to guard your own name, can rehabilitate a damaged brand better. Similarly, it might help see if the swell of passion around everything you said or did is, actually, fleeting. By responding in a bold and public way, you may incite a poor story when the problem was dying down.

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How you address or confront the incident matters a good deal. Issuing a sterile and formal apology through a “family spokesperson” or “representative” isn’t nearly as effectual as when the offending individual looks her or his audience in the eyes and genuinely owns responsibility for what happened.

When Kathy Griffin addressed the outrage over the photograph of her holding a replica of a decapitated Donald Trump head, she did so in what were a rehearsed and scripted apology video. While her goal likely was showing authentic and relatable regret and apology (she didn’t wear makeup in the apology video), her body gestures and selection of words made the message appear insincere, fueling further outrage.

An apology should be specific, sincere and repeated to create an impact. Running a business, legal limitations could make this challenging: boards of directors and other stakeholders have input into how exactly we quickly and publicly accountability and apologies for mistakes or wrongdoings could be issued. This can decelerate the reputation rehab process significantly.

When confronted with a reputation crisis where they have to accept responsibility, I advise clients to apologize for his or her behavior and demonstrate confidence within their capability to make things right and overcome the negative impact of the task. It is important in order to avoid projecting arrogance no matter what. Instead, communicate a solid desire to regain trust and a willingness to accomplish better later on. Mistakes happen. While we can’t change days gone by, we are able to promise to get help if we are in need of it (e.g. rehab, counseling, advice), we are able to work to create things right and prevent repeating the offending behavior. Only once the last part is completed as time passes will trust be rebuilt. If your audiences see that you will be getting help, are making amends, showing contrition (if warranted) and surrounding yourself with safeguards in order to avoid repeating the behavior, they’ll entertain believin

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